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Can You Drink the Water and Eat the Food? Advice From the FDA

Aug. 29, 2005 -- Hurricane Katrina - which slammed into the Gulf Coast on Monday - is leaving power outages and flooding in its wake.

In those conditions, is food in refrigerators and freezers safe? How about the safety of drinking water? The FDA offers this advice:

Water Safety After Floods and Hurricanes

Don't assume that local drinking water is safe after a flood or hurricane. Listen to local announcements on water safety.

If you can't get bottled water and tap water safety is questionable, purify your drinking water. Here are three ways to do that:

  • Boil water vigorously for one to three minutes (three minutes for altitudes above 1 mile).

  • If you can't boil water, add eight drops (an eighth of a teaspoon or 0.75 milliliters) of newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water, stir it well, and let the water stand for 30 minutes before you use it. This should get rid of any bacteria in the water but won't kill parasites.

  • Water-purifying tablets are another option. Look for them at pharmacies or sporting goods stores.

Food Safety After Floods and Hurricanes

If flooding has happened, immediately evaluate your supply of stored food and water.

Perishable items (like meat, poultry, milk, seafood, and eggs) that are not properly frozen or refrigerated may make people sick, even if those foods are cooked thoroughly.

Don't eat any food that's come into contact with floodwater.

Throw out food that's not in a waterproof container if there's any chance floodwater touched it. That includes food containers with screw caps, snap lids, and home-canned foods.

Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved. Here's how:

  • Remove the labels
  • Thoroughly wash the cans
  • Disinfect the cans with a quarter of a cup of bleach per gallon of water.
  • Relabel the cans with a marker. Include the expiration date.

Get rid of wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby-bottle nipples, and pacifiers. They can't be safely cleaned if they've been touched by floodwater.

Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils with soap and hot water. Then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of a quarter of a cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

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